So, last year, just around this time, I heard a word I’d never heard before â€“ SuperMOOC. It stands for Super Massive Open Online Course â€“ it’s a free course, sometimes sponsored by a college, sometimes not, but always fun and exciting (well, at least the two I’ve taken have been and are). It’s open to as many people who want to sign up for it, and the one that propelled me into SuperMOOC mania was Professor Christy Blanch’s first foray into the world â€“ Gender through Comic Books.
Well, it was a glorious three months that ended too soon, but I was happy to learn that Professor Blanch was offering another one â€“ Social Issues through Comic Books. I’m currently deep in the throes of this class, and I thought each month I’d share with you the comic books we’re reading that have to do with a specific societal issue. This class is a bit longer, but we’ll be tackling issues like addiction, the environment, social inequality, immigration & information privacy.
I thought it would be fun for me to give you, dear readers, all the info on these comics â€“ a lot of which are ones that were already in my library’s teen graphic novel collection, but I had never read before. First up â€“ addiction. For readers interested in the topic or those curious to see how comic books have covered the topic, I’ve got you covered. Come with me over the next few months to hear my thoughts on a lot of comics that I’ve only just recently read. As alwaysâ€¦let’s start with Batman â€“
Batman: Venom by Denny O’Neil, Trevor Von Eeden, Russell Braun & Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez: So, I’m actually pretty embarrassed admitting this, but I had never read this Batman story, even though I noticed it quite a few times as I was going through my graphic novel collection. Well, lucky for me, this class forced me to read it, and it was quite a good book. Basic story: Batman is helpless to save a little girl’s life because he just can’t physically lift the weight to free her. So, he turns to Venom pills (which will soon make an appearance for the worse when Bane gets ahold of them) which turn him into the crazy, mad psycho type that is hell-bent on giving the baddies their due with his new superhuman strength. But at what cost? His health? His sanity? This was an enlightening read that I liked because Batman really is just a regular human guy; it sometimes is helpful to see that even those who are the strongest have their weaknesses, as well. Poor Batman, and boy does that cover creep me out every time I look at it. I’m turning it over now, and moving on toâ€¦
The Green Lantern-Green Arrow collection, Volume 2: Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams: Denny O’Neil is featured heavily in the books we read for this specific subject because Denny was interviewed for the class and he just wrote some good stories on addiction. From this collection, we read issues 85 & 86 which tell the story of Green Lantern’s ward, Speedy, and how he gets addicted to heroin. So, the story is a bit dated, and the illustrations are more indicative of the 1970s, when they were originally published â€“ really bright and often grating coloring. But, the story, at its core, is Speedy trying to tell Green Arrow (and good luck telling him anything â€“ early Green Arrow was just a straight up jerk, I think) how he felt and how he needed his â€œmentorâ€ Green Arrow, who had actually lost track of Speedy for 3 months during this time, to help him get past his addiction. Green Lantern and Black Canary are much more sympathetic to Speedy’s plight, and this is a good story to contrast Batty’s â€“ Batty takes no help from anyone, but Speedy reaches out to his friends for help.
Buzzkill by Donny Cates: This book just came out in trade paperback this week, so it’s a great recommendation for readers not into the traditional or well-known superhero. Ruben is a superhero, but he only gets his powers from any kind of â€œdrugâ€ â€“ be it caffeine, alcohol, marijuana â€“ anything that affects body chemicals, he gets an extra charge because of it. But, he’s wondering if this is truly an addiction if he’s using the side effects to help people. He’s finally decided that he’s cleaning himself up, even if that means no more superpowers ever; he doesn’t like how being high or drunk or stoned is affecting his personal life. This book really questions what it means to be addicted and whether there are ever any grey areas between the black and white. A great story to get readers thinking about the bigger questions that come with addictions and how we view addicts in society.
A shorter booklist than what I usually provide, but the other book we read is for â€œmature readers onlyâ€ (quoting from the front of the comic), soâ€¦no dice. Looking at addiction, and knowing that so many readers have had their own experiences with it, these books are a great tool to know about to provide a different type of commentary to the discussion of addiction and its’ effects on society and the people within. Denny O’Neil, when asked in our class interview why he chose to feature addiction in so many of his comics, said that (and this is me remembering it â€“ definitely not verbatim) if you can introduce the idea and nuances of a problem to young people through comics, they will be the one to change the society in the future. A big â€œmwahâ€ to Denny, and a hope that you will join me next month when we will be focusing on comics and their take on the environment.
And, as always, for more graphic novel reading pleasure, check out YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens lists.
-Traci Glass, currently reading Swamp Thing, Volume 3: Rotworld by Scott Snyder, Jeff Lemire & Yanick Paquette